An Overview of NBA, MLB, and NHL Playoffs

Tim Schmid has spent his career as the CEO of various health care organizations. Away from work, Tim Schmidt enjoys following professional basketball, baseball, and hockey, particularly during playoffs.

The National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Hockey Association, three of the most popular professional sports leagues in the United States, all follow a similar format for their division and championship playoffs. All three leagues are split into two divisions. MLB has the American League and the National League, while both the NBA and the NHL have an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference. When the playoffs begin, teams first vie to win their division, and then the winners from opposing divisions meet in the championship round.

In the NBA, eight teams from each conference progress to the postseason. The teams are matched up based on how they are seeded: The top-seeded team opens with a best-of-seven series against the eighth-seeded team, the second seed faces the seventh seed, and so on. A team’s path to the conference finals and championship is not altered, regardless of upsets, meaning the top seed cannot face the teams seeded two, three, six, and seven until the final round.

The NHL similarly admits 16 teams to the postseason, although playoff positioning is based almost entirely on divisional results rather than overall records. Finally, in the MLB postseason, three division winners and two wild cards in both leagues advance to the playoffs. The two wild card teams contest a single game to advance. Divisional competitors play a best-of-five-game series, while the league championships and the World Series are decided in best-of-seven-game contests.